Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Isaacson Shows Jobs' Genius, Madness

Apple founder Steve Jobs was a man who was complicated as his products were simple.

I recently read Jobs biography, written by Walter Isaacson. Even when I finished, I couldn’t figure out whether to admire Jobs or pity him.
I picked up the book because I was interested in insights regarding one of the great visionaries of our time. However, I feared the book would amount to nothing more than a very long Apple press release. To Issacson’s credit, he somehow got the notorious control freak to release his grip and allow the author to tell the full, fascinating story.

The book drags a bit in the middle. For instance, I could have lived with less discussion of open code vs. closed systems. But other seemingly extraneous material, such as Jobs’ relationship with Bill Gates, could not have been missed.

So how do you best describe the late Steve Jobs? Imagine the most difficult person in your life. Now multiply that by a thousand.
Jobs co-founded Apple in a garage and parlayed it into one of the nation’s most admired and financially successful companies. He left his fingerprints all over some of the greatest innovations in a host of industries, including personal computing, cell phones, retailing, music and even movies (through Pixar). In the process, Apple created legions of loyal fans who swear by the simplicity and elegance of its products.

Isaacson tracks each of these great developments from their genesis to completion and all the pain-staking details in between.

Despite Jobs successes, he was neither personally nor professionally satisfied. Issacson suggests this stems from him being placed for adoption as a child. Although Jobs ended up in a loving home, he never got over feelings of abandonment.

Perhaps this is why he could be so cruel, especially to people closest to him, including his own family members. He kept some of Apple’s first employees from sharing in its financial gains and eventually got run out of his own company because of his volatile temper. In his personal life, Jobs had a child out of wedlock and initially chose not to be in her life, just as his own biological parents had done with him.

Jobs eventually returned to Apple to orchestrate some of its greatest accomplishments, including the IPod and IPad. But the ending isn’t nearly as redemptive as it seems. He continued to struggle with professional and personal demons until his death.

According to Isaacson, Jobs wanted to revolutionize other industries, including television. It would have be fun to see what else he would have created. On the other hand, the destructive path in getting there wouldn’t have been any fun at all.

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